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Siam Smiles, Manchester, Lab Moo

The 20 best cheap eats in Manchester

Dining out on a budget? These are the best cheap eats in Manchester for a wallet-friendly lunch or dinner

By Huw Oliver

There are few better feelings than stuffing your face, and not having to blow a load of money on it. And in marvellous Manchester, you’ve got a load of brilliant options for doing just that. From brilliant brunch spots to top-notch late-night restaurants to endless killer curry houses, our pick of the best cheap eats in Manchester will certainly sort you out. Whether it’s I Am Pho’s steaming soups, the bright purple fish ball stew at Siam Smiles, or slow-cooked lamb nihari from Akbar’s you go for, satisfaction’s basically guaranteed.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Manchester

Best cheap eats in Manchester

1. This & That

Restaurants Indian

Manchester boasts a few places serving ‘rice and three’ – a hefty portion of rice teamed with no less than three curries on the side. But the original and best (£4.50) is found at This & That, a no-frills café tucked down an unassuming side street.

2. Shoryu Ramen

Restaurants Ramen

This elegant noodle bar is owned by the Japan Centre’s CEO Tak Tokumine, and Manchester secured the first branch outside London in late 2016. The house special is tonkotsu: a slow cooked pork broth with barbecue pork belly, egg, mushrooms, sesame, ginger and nori seaweed. Extras include fried shallots, caramelised black garlic, kimchi and seafood. The house gyoza and moreish wagyu steak buns are musts, too.


3. Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza

Restaurants Pizza

Kate Wilson and Jim Morgan (previously of Honest Crust) know a thing or two about pizza. They’ve been involved in pop-ups and events previously, but set up their own permanent site in an area of the city known at one time as Little Italy (and now as Ancoats).

4. Habesha

Restaurants Ethiopian

It’s safe to say expectations are low when you have to enter a restaurant via a metal staircase in a takeaway that’s surrounded by tens of nightclubs and bars. While Ethiopian restaurant Habesha certainly is a little rustic, once you’ve grabbed yourself a bottle of St. George (an Ethiopian beer), you’ll soon feel right at home. The richly spiced stews (meat or veg) served on gluten-free injera bread are excellent. 


5. Kabana

Restaurants Indian

Eating at Kabana is a euphoric experience. The curries vary on what feels like every visit. The chicken masala and lamb karahi (on or off the bone) are reliable options – the latter is thick and coriander-heavy with a freshness you may not expect from a dish that requires lengthy cooking. The spiced yoghurt-marinated lamb chops? Also great.

6. I Am Pho

Restaurants Vietnamese

While the atmosphere inside is perfectly acceptable, it’s obvious ambience has never been the number-one concern here: lighting seems to vary from extremely low level one night to almost blinding the next, and décor is basic. However, the steaming bowls of Vietnamese pho (noodle soups) are unmissable, and incredibly cheap.


7. Pancho’s Burritos

Restaurants Mexican

There are two branches of Pancho’s to choose from: one in the Arndale Food Market and one just off Oxford Road, near Manchester Metropolitan University. Whichever you visit, expect gorgeous, brilliant-value Mexican food.

8. Siam Smiles

Restaurants Thai

Love a hidden gem? You don’t get much more off the beaten track than this Thai diner in a Chinatown supermarket. Highlights include a bright purple fish ball stew, eye-wateringly hot papaya salad and black rice pudding, baked to sticky perfection in banana leaves.  


9. Akbar’s

Restaurants Indian

Away from the Curry Mile, Manchester offers several decent Indian restaurants, where service is friendly and efficient and where the wine list goes beyond the usual house stuff. Akbar’s is one such place. The slow-cooked lamb nihari is fantastic, and adventurous diners will be delighted by moreish takes on tripe brain and sheep’s trotters. 

Sunrise Caribbean Food

10. Sunrise Caribbean Food

Forget the chains doing watered-down Caribbean cuisine: head to this backstreet takeaway instead. You’ll find all the staples here, but the curried goat and fiery jerk chicken (£7.50) are unbeatable (and come with quite possibly the city’s best rice and peas).


11. Vnam

Restaurants Vietnamese

The dishes at this quaint little Vietnamese are refreshingly light on oil and made with beautiful, locally sourced ingredients. Our top tip? Theirs are the most delicious spring rolls in Manchester, and the beef pho (£7.50) is pure bliss.

Photograph: Courtesy

12. Barbakan

Restaurants Delis

You know you’ve reached Barbakan when you catch a whiff of fried onions or spot a queue that snakes down the steps and on to the street. Fortunately, their outdoor sausage sellers (Saturdays only) are efficient and you won’t be waiting long: the bratwurst is a solid favourite and there are around 10 chutneys and mustards to choose from (the sauces are self-service – go crazy!).

Northern Soul Grilled Cheese
Photograph: Courtesy

13. Northern Soul Grilled Cheese

Restaurants American creative

Many Brits grew up eating toasted cheese sandwiches in front of the TV, and Northern Soul make the city’s best. Choose from extras like beef patties, bacon and house pickles, or go back to basics with the three-cheese house blend. Lampshades made from cheese graters and wooden decking warm this semi-outdoor stall, just opposite the Arndale Food Market.

14. Trove

Restaurants Pizza

This independent bakery opened in the up-and-coming suburb of Levenshulme five years ago and demand for their varied selection of breads has been, erm, on the rise ever since. The café-bar and restaurant space was expanded in late 2016. The brunch and bread menus are now joined by restaurant-style creations such as tempura leeks with crab mayo, and a marmalade croissant bread and butter pudding.


15. Turkish Delight

Restaurants Middle Eastern

The best thing about this kebab shop is that you don’t need to be hammered to enjoy the grub they’re dishing out. While there’s a table-service restaurant hidden at the back, most don’t get further than the takeaway counter at the front. This is where you’ll get value for money: food that’s tastier eaten off your lap or while walking home than it is on a plate with a knife and fork.

16. Earth Café

Restaurants Vegan

Those who turn up to Earth expecting greasy pizzas and fried chicken really need a good lesson in symbolism. The speciality here is vegetarian food that harks back to an era of baggy pants and patchouli oil – think chickpea burgers, mixed salad and grains, and so on. Pop upstairs for a yoga or mediation class in the beautiful, hand-built space that’s part of the Northern Quarter’s Buddhist Centre. 


17. Umami

Restaurants Japanese

Ten years ago, the closest most Manchester students got to Japanese cuisine was a Pot Noodle, but the arrival of cafeteria-style noodle bars such as Umami has made pan-Asian casual restaurants a mainstay in most university towns. Options include fresh sushi, soup noodles and salt and pepper tofu.  

Nectar Bistro
Photograph: Courtesy

18. Nectar Bistro

Restaurants Middle Eastern

Close to the Four Banks intersection in Chorlton, a suburban area of south Manchester known for its bars and cafés, this family-run Middle Eastern restaurant serves good-value shareable food, ideal for groups of friends.


19. Phetpailin

Restaurants Thai

There are plenty of Thai and Malaysian restaurants to choose from in Manchester, some headed up by celebrity chefs, others located in swanky million-pound buildings. One that bucks the trend but consistently delivers good food is Thai Phetpailin. The whole steamed sea bass is a treat. 

20. Viet Shack

Restaurants Vietnamese

Popular with everyone from students to Olympic athletes, Viet Shack’s self-styled healthy Vietnamese street food comes with a modern twist. With counter service and seating shared with the rest of the Arndale Food Market, it’s ideally placed for a quick, cheap on-the-go lunch.

After more solid recommendations?

The 24 best restaurants in Manchester


Over the past few years this city’s food scene has flourished: trailblazing indie restaurants have opened across the city, under-the-radar local favourites have been celebrated by national restaurant critics and world-famous chefs are setting up flashy new ventures.


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